We love The Park, and as it nears it’s 5th birthday we thought it was an excellent time to catch up with the family behind this one-of-a-kind local venue, and give new Head Chef Jon Ford’s new menu a run!
Experienced venue owners Nick and Connie’s idea for the Park Hotel came after a spontaneous visit to a dilapidated property in Connie’s home-town of Werribee. The old Tudor hotel was to become their 6th business venture, having recently sold their businesses in Queensland to return to Melbourne’s West.
Nick says, “We saw the West, and particularly Werribee, as a huge opportunity. We wanted to create a venue in the West, that you might usually find in the City, and bring something totally new to the area.”
And the team behind The Park have definitely delivered. The Tudor hotel was completely gutted and reborn in August 2012. Designed and built by Nick, the 500 capacity venue with it’s expansive bar (well, you need a huge bar to house 22 tap beers!), concrete floors, high ceilings and open fireplace, is warm and inviting. The new retractable roof on the outdoor area is also a huge winner for winter!
The Park borrows it’s name from The Park New York, and the menu is also influenced by Nick and Connie’s travels in America – they specialise in smoking their own meats, and boast their own large hand-crafted smoker, which was built here in Melbourne by Silver Creek Smokers.
American BBQ night is a local institution – the meats are smoked for 8-12 hours (pass by on a Wednesday and you’ll see the smoker in action), and you won’t find anything else like it nearby. The Park will be adding to the BBQ action soon with a new spit too – so expect some amazing suckling pig and other goodies!
American BBQ Night
Every Thursday at The Park is American BBQ night, the menu has just been changed up too so there are a few new dishes to try! We went with a large group, with kids, and the service and food was excellent all-round. Yes, it’s a pub, but it’s super family friendly and the kids menu is great value at $10 a meal.
Most of us opted for the Big Daddy Tray (well, it would be rude not to). Loaded with extra brisket, extra pulled pork, beef spare rib, cheese kransky, chipotle slaw, & corn bread is a HUGE meal, and oh my is it good! Everything on it is lovingly prepared, from the 12-hour smoked meats, to the homemade rubs, breads and sauces – it’s a sight to behold and the meat is unbelievably tender, with that sweet, earthy smoked flavour and beautiful pink tinge. With smaller meals available from $15 and sides from $5, there is something for everyone and the regularly rotating American craft beers are designed to complement each meat.
The stand out for me was the Beef Spare rib, and if you follow Eat West you’ll know we are big fans of some of the best smokers out there. Such is it’s perfection, new Head Chef Jon has taken the beef rib and reinvented it on the new winter menu into what he describes as the dish of which he is most proud…and he should be, it is amazing.
I won’t go on too much here, as there is a bit to get through, but who doesn’t love Mac and Cheese?! It’s like a cool take on arancini and the relish is delicious. There are quite a few entrees on the menu that together make perfect share plates – so if you’re looking to head somewhere for a few drinks and some delicious (if a bit naughty) nibbles, then The Park will nail it.
All of the entrees today were fabulous, but there is a special place in my heart for the Saganaki. I’ve tried numerous incarnations of this simple Mediterranean staple and I have to say that this is the best I have had. That sweet house-smoked honey, balanced with tart citrus and waxy pistachio (and the best cheese in the world – really, I’d eat it all day) – it’s a beautiful dish. If you are deliberating what to get when you visit. Get this.
If I was asked to recommend one dish in the West right now – this would be it – two huge 8-hour pit-smoked beef ribs, glazed in a house-made cherry bourbon and served to pack a bit of a punch with jalapeños and cherries soaked in – yep, cherry bourbon. Heaven. The beef is melt-in-the-mouth delicious. It literally falls off the bone to be mopped up with the sweet cherries and spicy jalapeños, which cut through that smokey earthiness with a confident spike of flavour. This is an impressively put together dish, and for $32 the quality is definitely top end for the Western suburbs. It was going to be a hard act to follow.
Just like Nanna makes. Jon is from the North of England, and the Park’s very American vibe now has some British flavour to it. Jon explains “it’s hearty winter fare with a modern twist, everything is house-made, the lamb shanks are braised for 12 hours, the sourdough is baked fresh, and the beetroot relish is my own recipe – it’s quite sharp and it balances the heavier flavour and texture of the lamb.” It’s another solid dish, all thick gravy, insanely tender meat and a light crispy pastry. The beetroot relish is delicious – I’m pretty keen to steal the recipe…
Nick and Jon have been working on the new menu for a few weeks, trying to get the balance right. Nick explains, “we think that people here in the West really appreciate what is out on the table. We’ve worked hard to perfect the menu, and I’m really proud of the quality of the food we are putting out. Expectations are high and our whole team works incredibly hard to deliver a quality product and service,”
We went with the intention of trying the dishes that had been through the smoker, but it’s worthwhile mentioning here that the Park is vegan friendly, with 11 plant-based dishes, and there are a number of gluten and dairy free options too.
I just don’t know what to say here – this cheesecake is insane. It’s also very sweet, so for a savoury-bug like me it’s definitely one for sharing. But, even if cheesecake isn’t usually your thing, I’d encourage you to give this a go. You can thank me later, although your waistline may not….
I’m not sure you can get more British than Sticky Date Pudding and Apple & Rhubarb Crumble, but again there is a really modern twist on both. Now, here’s the thing, Sticky Date Pudding is not a dessert I would usually choose, and I was prepared to not like it. It was my absolute favourite of the three. Just like the ribs, this dish is incredibly thoughtfully put together and hugely successful. The salted caramel sauce is divine and the pear and brandy cream – it’s like summer and Christmas rolled into one. It’s perfect winter decadence and I’d happily drive to Werribee to have this and a nightcap, any day of the week.
This is Front of House Manager James’s domain, and he is totally in his element. From the beginning, the vision for The Park was that it would showcase craft beers, and James plans monthly “Tap Take Over’s”, inviting breweries to come in on a limited time basis and show off their best.
To celebrate the 4th July, The Park is hosting a Michigan Vs Hawaii take over with ambassadors from both breweries in town to talk about their brewing process and get your acquainted with their beers. There will also be a special event for their upcoming 5th birthday in August – so look out for that!
Sometimes you see a large venue, and you assume it’s a chain, or part of a huge portfolio owned by an out-of-town business. The Park is everything that we love. Family owned and run, with huge dedication to the local area, Nick and Connie’s vision for The Park has been more than achieved. If you haven’t visited yet – BBQ Thursdays or R&B Friday’s are a great pick, but trust us – The Park’s awesome service, invigorated menu and pared-back, casual vibe is a Westie gem that you can enjoy any day (or night) of the week.